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Regional Leaders to Meet Over Mali Crisis

Ivory Coast army chief-of-staff Soumaila Bakayoko (L) and Malian army chief-of-staff Ibrahima Dahirou Dembele (C) inspect Malian troops at an air base in Bamako, January 16, 2013.
West African Regional leaders plan to meet Saturday and discuss what they can do to help resolve the crisis in Mali, where government and French troops are trying to oust Islamist rebels occupying northern regions of the country.

“They would be looking at the political aspect, which is the mediation process as ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] has been doing, to find a solution to the crisis in Mali,” says the head of political affairs and international cooperation of ECOWAS, Remi Ajibewa.

He says the leaders will also be briefed on the situation in Guinea Bissau, where an ECOWAS Mission was deployed last year.

Critics say ECOWAS failed to take preemptive action that in Mali that could have prevented the militants from overrunning much the north and threaten the capital, Bamako.

That criticism, Ajibewa says, is unjustified.

“Right from the onset, ECOWAS has been using a two-pronged approach to the Mali crisis, given the fact that Mali is a complex situation. Whoever expected a sort of deployment before now is not being fair to ECOWAS,” said Ajibewa.

“The approach include one, to find a peaceful solution to the rebellion through dialogue, which has been facilitated by the ECOWAS team headed by the mediator, [Burkinabe president] Blaise Compaore, and on the other hand we also intensified diplomatic efforts to rally international consensus on the situation, which culminated in the UN resolution,” Ajibewa added.

He says the regional bloc and its international partners including the United Nations and the African Union want to help build strong institutions in Mali after the separatists and Islamist militants are defeated militarily.

“We are also talking about consolidating democracy there, especially strengthening state institutions such as the National Electoral Commission, the Human Rights Commission as well as others,” Ajibewa said.

The heads of state summit comes a day after the Mediation and Security Council meeting, which is scheduled to discuss the latest development in Mali. That conference is expected be attended by foreign affairs ministers and defense ministers.

The proposals and recommendations of the Media and Security Council will then be presented to the regional leaders for their deliberation and action.

Clottey interview with Remi Ajibewa, Senior ECOWAS official
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